Magazine article New Internationalist

Kick-Backs and Kleptocracy: In Nearly 30 Years of Dictatorship Mobutu Sese Seko Has Reduced Zaire to a State of Almost Complete Chaos and Accumulated an Immense Personal Fortune in the Process

Magazine article New Internationalist

Kick-Backs and Kleptocracy: In Nearly 30 Years of Dictatorship Mobutu Sese Seko Has Reduced Zaire to a State of Almost Complete Chaos and Accumulated an Immense Personal Fortune in the Process

Article excerpt

MOBUTU SESE SEKO, Zairian dictator, has spent three decades carefully refining his system for transforming the public resources of Zaire into private wealth, while using bribery, coercion and violence to thwart all movements for change. Anti - Mobutu appeals lead only to frustration, probably because the Zairian leader serves -- in the well - chosen words of former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance -- as a 'consistent if sometimes embarrassing source of support' for Western strategic objectives. Zairian fighters for democracy are ruthlessly undercut by the West's continued backing of Mobutu.

The consequences of his system, commonly known as 'kleptocracy' or government by theft, are well known: the immiseration of the people; the destruction of the nation's infrastructure; the enrichment of Mobutu and his cronies; and the transformation of Zaire into the prime staging - ground for foreign intervention against other African nations. The methods are equally clear: diverting military aid, bribing foreign governments and officials, seizing foreign and local assets to augment his own personal wealth, smuggling diamonds... the list is endless, the means: pure theft.

General Mobutu seized power in 1965. His first speeches eloquently decried mismanagement by government functionaries who served only the 'people and companies that pay them bribes'. In fact Mobutu, a one - time Belgian security agent who had shifted his primary allegiance to the CIA around the time of independence, was already the epitome of the abuses he denounced. His first coup, against independence leader Patrice Lumumba in 1960, had been financed by the US Government through the UN.(f.1) By 1962, according to a UN audit, Mobutu had diverted enough money from foreign military - aid programs to make himself a millionaire.

Foreign bribes were Mobutu's first route to riches. Former US National Security Council official Roger Morris has estimated that Mobutu received close to $150 million from the US in the first decade or so of his rule. In an interview, Morris emphasized that he was referring to 'straight old - fashioned boodle... unaccountable money spent by the CIA'. Mobutu's theft of the $1.4 million he was supposed to pass on to Angolan rebels Jonas Savimbi and Holden Roberto during George Bush's reign as CIA director was merely thebest - documented example of a frequent pattern.(f.2)

After the mid - 1970s, however, direct bribes from foreign governments had a declining personal significance for Mobutu. Indeed by the late 1960s he himself was busy buying the allegiance of Western politicians. Belgian officials who received money or lucrative contracts from Mobutu included a former Prime Minister, the one - time leader of the Christian Democratic party and top civil servants in the Foreign Ministry, according to Erwin Blumenthal, who monitored Zairian Central Bank transactions for the International Monetary Fund in the late 1970s.(f.3) Other reports have documented flows of hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts to businesses controlled by the family of French President Giscard d'Estaing and to politically - influential Americans.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Mobutu used the seizure of foreign - owned assets to build up his own personal wealth and create a loyal Zairian economic elite. In 1966 he announced the nationalization of Union Miniere du Haut Katanga (UMHK), a Belgian - owned firm which dominated the nation's export economy. But a negotiated settlement ultimately granted the Societe Generale de Belgique (SGB), UMHK's parent firm, a lucrative contract to manage the state - owned successor, Gecamines. According to a close Mobutu associate, UMHK would secretly kick back a portion of the royalties directly to the Zairian ruler.(f.4)

The next major cycle of expropriation was the 'Zairianization' campaign launched in November 1973. In its various phases, Zairianization redistributed shops, plantations, transport companies and other enterprises from European owners to Zairians. …

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